Cultivating the Tender Hearts of Image Bearers:
A Conversation between a Father and Daughter, Dean of Students Steve Byrd and Second Grade Teacher Katie Earman
Katie: Children are image bearers of God. Every interaction flows from this reality – my students have infinite, mind-boggling value and significance. They are creative because God is creative. They can bring order from chaos because God established order from chaos – from nothingness. In just a few short years, meaningless symbols on paper can become letters, which form words, which become sentences, which is the basis for all writing and literature and poetry and song. That is astonishing, and such a privilege to share.
Steve: As image bearers, all of us, students and faculty are created to love. We all live out of our loves. This is why we go after the hearts of our students at Veritas. It’s why we pursue relationships in whatever context we can … in the classroom, on the field, in the art studio … behavior modification is just too small a goal. We want to cultivate hearts that are tender and open to the work and freedom of the gospel.
Katie: That’s right. Even in second grade, when behavior modification feels like an efficient short-term fix to a challenging situation, the more important work is to be honest about what is really going on. We are imagebearers who have been impacted by the Fall in every area of our lives. We are selfish or thoughtless or rude because we have real sin in our lives. And not just second graders, but second grade teachers like me. It’s why I need to repent to my students, and to help them return to Jesus as well. I deeply want them to experience the beauty that comes from repentance and reconciliation. We miss that opportunity when we move too quickly past the wrongs we do to one another.
Steve: The message of the gospel is good news for sinful people. As image bearers, we are created by a holy and perfect God, who has a majestic, glorious vision for His people. His Son, Jesus initiated and then completed everything needed for that vision to be reality – a broken and set apart people in beautiful, costly, reconciled relationship with a holy God. As faculty and staff, our work, our privilege, is to be honest about our need to be transformed by the gospel – and to gently, faithfully walk with students as they learn this as well.
Katie: Image bearers, even seven and eight year old image bearers, understand beauty and brokenness. They know when something is right, when something is special, when something deserves honor. As a teacher at Veritas, my work is to help them cultivate that sense – to develop an appetite for beauty and truth and goodness. It’s why we introduce students to the masters of art and music and great literature, even in kindergarten. It’s why we call out God’s fingerprints – but more than His fingerprints, His sustaining power – in math, in nature studies, in physics, in the course of human history.
Steve: And beyond the curriculum itself, we are filling the souls of students out of our own lives – and sometimes, particularly the less glorious parts. As I prepare lessons, I sense the Lord drawing experiences from my own life that I need to offer my students in humility, trusting that the Lord is redeeming all things for His glory and the good of His people. I want them to know that because we are all jars of clay, our students can talk to us about their struggles and doubts and wounds – that we’d rather have the messy conversation than outward compliance without inner growth.
[At this point, Steve and Katie’s conversation transitioned from their relationship as colleagues to their first and most important relationship, father and daughter]
Katie: I remember that about you, that willingness to show your own brokenness and ask for forgiveness as we were growing up. You’d come to us girls and say: “Please forgive me. I need Jesus, girls.” You weren’t a perfect parent, but you were a repentant parent. That was profoundly shaping for me. It let me know that I could be honest about who I am and not lose relationship – that in fact, the relationship would be stronger. It gives me courage even today to be gracious and honest with my students, knowing that grace is the last and best word in our classroom.
Steve: I didn’t know a lot about raising kids when you girls were born, but I realized two important things right away. First, that one of the most important parts of my role as your dad was to model God the Father’s love for you in tangible ways, and secondly, that I couldn’t do that on my own. I was absolutely dependent on Christ to do anything good as a dad. It still stings to remember the ways I let you down, the ways I still let you down. I will be repenting and reconciling with you the rest of my life.
Katie: You showed us the Father’s love in so many ways. Yes, through your humility, but also through your attentiveness to every detail of our lives, through playing with us, through taking time to be interested in what we loved. I remember so many nights of conversations that began “How’s your heart today?” You never pushed for an answer, and you never failed to ask again the next night. Your love was steadfast, and unconditional.
Steve: This is what I know: Jesus makes resurrection possible. If He was only a great healer or a great exemplar, we would be amazed, and we would be lost. But because Jesus brings dead things back to life, we have hope. There is no relationship – no family, no student – that is beyond that kind of power. It is this gospel truth that makes hearts tender, that fills souls, that makes us truly flourish as image bearers.